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David Cameron tells porkies about Britain’s national debt

23 January 2013

And then David Cameron has to go and spoil it all by telling porkies about what his government is doing to our national debt. The party election broadcast the Conservatives have just released is so astonishingly dishonest that it really would have disgraced Gordon Brown. In it, the Prime Minister tells an outright – how to put it? – untruth. He says:-

“So though this government has had to make some difficult decisions, we are making progress. We’re paying down Britain’s debts.”

David Cameron’s policy is to increase Britain’s debt by 60 per cent, more than any European country. To increase it more over five years than Labour did over 13 years.  Just yesterday, we learned the national debt had hit £1,111 billion and it’s heading to £1,400 billion.

By no stretch of the English language can this be described as “paying down Britain’s debts.” What Cameron said is not an exaggeration. It’s a straight falsehood, and one that demeans his office. He has previously used different language, saying that he is “dealing with the debt”. The below graph says it all:

As Cameron says in his party political broadcast, he’s only half way through his term of office. So what progress does he intend to make on national debt in the remainder of his parliament? His deputy, Nick Clegg, has previously boasted that his government is “wiping the slate clean of debt”. An utterly misleading analogy. Here are the Treasury’s published plans:

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It is hard to avoid the conclusion that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have an agreed strategy: that it is not important to tell the truth about how much debt their government is saddling voters with. That a little deception is no bad thing.

Here is the full Conservative Party election broadcast. It really is quite shameful. Financiers are, quite literally, prosecuted for this kind of thing.

As you can see, people are asked to guess how much the deficit is going down by. They guess low figures – 2 per cent, etc – and are then told that it’s actually 25 per cent. Then they say how impressed they are with the Tories. Have you spotted the trick? No normal person knows what “deficit” means, nor should they. It’s a Westminster wonk word, not even used in business. Most people will think “deficit” means “government debt”. Every time a proper poll is conducted about public perceptions about debt, it exposes the staggering extent to which people have been successfully misled. Last month, ITV – the channel the Tories chose to make this broadcast – released a poll showing just 6 per cent of the public realise that the national debt is rising. Why might this be? Is it because they’re all thick? Or is it because the Cabinet – even the Prime Minister himself – keep telling them that it’s falling?

This is not a nerdy footnote, not the same as – say – people not knowing the direction of the environmental policy. Cameron won’t be paying this debt back – the voters will. Their children and grandchildren will. I’d argue that ministers really do have a moral duty to be honest with the people who will be repaying the debts that ministers are running up. The Prime Minister has a greater duty than anyone. When he claimed debt was falling on an ITV sofa recently, you might have put it down to a slip of the tongue. But on a carefully-scripted party election broadcast?

I will ask 10 Downing St and the office of Grant Shapps how they reconcile the Prime Minister’s statement with what is actually happening to our national debt. I’ll let you know what they say.

PS: My thanks to the various people on Twitter who alerted me to this broadcast. Gordon Brown used to take the view that journalists protest the first few times a lie is mentioned, and then give up. Also newspapers never print graphs like this, so the politician can never be found out. The press has a  blind spot when you lie with figures, Brown realised. Newspapers know few readers will read a column on technical gobbledegook. If you make your lie boring or technical enough, they you’ll have no real trouble. Lying with numbers was the missing chapter in Peter Oborne’s superb The Rise of Political Lying. 

But in the social media era, annoying nerdy low life journalists like yours truly – tipped off by Twitter-enabled voters – have infinite energy (and space) to document every attempt by ministers to mislead. We now have toys to play with: audio, video, graphs etc. I had really hoped that, when Cameron got in, such lie-detecting tools would not be necessary.

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Show comments
  • Robert Roberts

    In reading with interest the various contributors, I am impressed with their education e.g. gathering of knowledge, BUT I suspect that most simply apply formulae to the situations discussed. Reality depends on people doing things. Consider Adam Smith. He provided an analysis of the wealth of Nations. It took until the latter part of the last century for governments to consider that these factors must be able to be influenced by intervention. I, unfortunately, remember the statements that we can smooth the cyclic nature of wealth by government intervention. In simple uneconomic terms , nature hates straight lines.
    Jobs – equate to the money available for them. The costs of ‘bought work’ compared with the ‘survival of the populace’. Note that jobs and work are not the same. So far no one seems to have considered the reason for jobs. As indicated by the ‘cost job or not’ brigade. There needs to be a purpose for jobs any cosmetic action to move numbers from column Unemploymed to column Employed simply changes these columns. Governments do n.ot usually earn income for their country. Either you produce or you don’t. So it is up to the populace to provide jobs. Any intervention needs to be short term or it skews markets.
    Why jobs? it is a means of circulating money. The only states who create jobs are totalitarian. This way all income is generated to the centre and distribution to the populace is from the centre. Note these States provide the same types of work and products as capitalist states.
    Whoever decided that mass production of everything was a good idea ranks with the financial geniuses who want to buy everything cheaply from abroad because it is fiscally better. The former destroyed a lot of the redistribution of wealth as was and the latter thinks we can fund their method by printing paper.
    My soap-box is now teetering badly so………………….
    The basic ingredient in any transaction is trust. If either the provider has no confidence in the customer’s ability to pay or the customer in the providers’ ability to supply then there is no trade.
    Monetarists please note if you apply the last to your product – money, consider that you cannot control availability in your market and you leaders demonstrate a lack of trust in your commodity and your investors societies undermine confidence
    by offering to guarantee your income by overseas investment………………

  • SorryI’llGetMyCoat

    All that graph shows is labour copied tory policies for their first 4 years in power. Then drunk with apparent success they lit rip with their profligate socialist policies of destruction. Blair and Brown together rubbing their hands with glee. More diversity co-ordinators and more immigrants to vote labour. You can’t stop a super-tanker that’s been steaming full speed ahead for over 10 years in half a parliament.

  • RedMiner

    So why are you whining? The Tories have consistently lied about welfare benefits, in particular, sickness and disability benefits, but it suits you to support those lies so you remain silent.

    Since 1979 the Tories have governed with overwhelmingly higher unemployment and higher disability benefit claim numbers. Even today, long term unemployment is up 400% on 2010, yet Cameron and his idiot sidekick, Iain Duncan Smith, claim to be reducing it.

    No consistency, Mr Nelson, ergo, no credibility.

  • Jack Back

    Tory voters are fooled so easy lets be honest

  • DACS

    UK is 3rd most indebted country in the world, with this £700 billion we shall overtake Ireland and Japan by miles! Has he not seen that thing from money week floating round the internet ‘END OF BRITAIN’? check it out :)

  • Jack Back

    Every working person in the county will have to pay an extra £2000 a year in tax to cover the interest on what Cameron has borrowed since the election. By 2014-15 it estimated by experts that Britain will be £1.4 trillion in debt. Dont just take my word for it do your own checks. Still thinking of voting for the Conservatives?

  • Thomas Denny

    Regretfully britian has been living in a twilight world for yeaers this is onlt the beginning we are borrowing more than we earn so the net result is disaster

  • David Ross

    Fraser, can you please ask Cameron about this pledge he made in 2008 (Telegraph Nov);
    Mr Cameron has already pledged to scrap the final-salary scheme for MPs, which is one of the most generous available.

    MP’s are still accruing at 1/40th’s. To put this in perspective they accrue on their current basic salary £5k annualised pension in 3 years. Current annuity required for £5k / annum costs £152k. In other words if you’re lucky enough to earn what an MP does you need to start stashing away 74% of your salary – and that assumes MP’s will not have a salary increase. We know of course they are lobbying collectively for a 32% rise.
    I am thoroughly disgusted that my children and grandchildren will need to meet the ludicrous pension promises made to public sector workers they themselves will never be able to afford.
    This is corruption is it not? Check out “” for definition of government corruption.

  • fred

    the goverment is a joke come on 2015 vote UKIP!!!

  • Phil Watson

    well, that;s a shocker, David Camoron lying, well hold the front page. lol If his lips are moving he’s lying, seeemples.

  • Mark Wolf Wolves

    @Daily_Express @AJEnglish @AJInsideStoryAM @itvnews @itvnewsinsider @Change @nsgov @IainDale@BreakingNews @nytimes @guardiannews @democracynow @DailyMirror @JonWheale
    tom_watson @TheSunNewspaper This is the real cost to the millions of people living in the u.k thanks to the government and their cuts! On the outside the government look like a pretty good bet for our country one of the wealthiest in the world BUT on the inside the reality is that the government has cut back the benefit system so much tthat their is a real danger of creating a third world society 1 because the conservative government has labeld the weak and the poor of this country so badly that their is a stigma now attached to the unemployed the disabled and the low paid working class.THIS IS NOT FICTION THIS IS FACT while mp’s went to Westminster the other day and were given expenses of over 3,000 pounds some poor kid and their parents were going with out a meal or were cold and if you do not believe me then he is the evidence for everyone to see WATCH IN DISBELIF.

  • Bill Todd

    well if the people in the broadcast were told debt has gone down by 25% that’s a lie or is it cause in George osbourne’s budget speech he has and I quote “country debt is down by 33%” so who is right cause both can’t be

  • paul hope

    lets face it everything and then when he looses the next election he will be of with his ill gotten millions abroad and then when the next gov take over only then will we find out the true debt in this country but by then we will have lost even more of the countrys credit rating and then find out just what these muppets have made law through the back door

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